The Differences Between Working At For-Profit And Non-Profit Organizations

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I recently worked on contract at a business agency and a non-profit organization (NPO).

Working at a for-profit and non-profit agency one after the other gave me the unique opportunity to compare and contrast the two work environments.

Although there are many similarities between the two sectors, the differences are also stark.

I have learned that two of the most important qualities, which can be applied across all work environments, are flexibility and adaptability. More than anything, a willingness to learn is what employers admire most.

Work style

The first and most obvious difference I noticed was the atmosphere at the two workplaces. It seemed much more relaxed at the NPO and there was a lot more hand-holding during the orientation and training periods.

Although the colleagues at the business agency were also all very friendly and supportive, I felt more of a team dynamic at the NPO.

In a business setting, an employee is usually brought in to fill a specific niche based on certain required skill sets and is expected to hit the ground running, whereas at the NPO I was not expected to know everything from the very first day.

Work structure

In the for-profit sector, companies make money depending on how well and how many clients they serve. Albeit the goal for NPOs is not to make money, they still need a revenue stream to keep their projects operational and for this they greatly, if not entirely, depend on funding. The sources of funding include the government, businesses, local citizens and other larger NPOs.

The chain-of-command does not end with the boss, as it does in the business sector, but is split into multiple decision makers. This causes many challenges, not the least of which is an ongoing review of work by the funders to determine an increase or reduction in the amount of funding received. This in turn results in abruptly shifting deadlines and workload for an NPO worker.

Customers

The clients at the business firm I worked at ranged from sports associations to municipal organizations that hired us on project-based contracts. We had minimal contact with our clients except to make presentations in order to receive feedback on completed work.

At the NPO, our cases were actual people who stopped by our office and with whom we maintained regular contact. This allowed a professional, as well as a personal, rapport to develop between the clients and employees.

Skills required

Many NPOs now operate as businesses or at least have a special department dedicated to handle fundraising, sponsorship and marketing. There is a lot of overlap in the skills needed to work in the for-profit and non-profit sectors, and therefore transferable skills are becoming increasingly more useful. However, there still remains some distinction between the two sectors.

To work at the business agency I had to be ambitious, outgoing and a go-getter. I could not shy away from competition and had to take initiatives such as asking for extra work, providing new ideas and always being on top of things.

Working at the NPO, the skills most used and tested were communication and teamwork. Social work being the focus of NPOs, management and people skills are a key requirement.

Not all for-profit or non-profit organizations are the same, and one sector is not necessarily better than the other. Where you end up is a matter of personal goals and preference.

I have learned that two of the most important qualities, which can be applied across all work environments, are flexibility and adaptability. More than anything, a willingness to learn is what employers admire most.

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